QUEEN CREEK — For 14 seniors at Sabino High School, their football careers officially came to a close on Friday night following the 42-28 loss to Eastmark in the 3A Quarterfinals. In an emotional loss, the No. 7 Sabercats struggled to hold the Firebirds in the fourth quarter after going into the final 12 minutes to play trailing by only a touchdown.
“It was 48 minutes of battling,” Sabino coach Ryan McBrayer said. “Week 12 and I couldn’t be more proud. The only thing I’m sad about is that we don’t get another minute with this team, because it’s a very special group.”
Sabino is no stranger to the Firebirds, as the two faced off in Week 8 of the regular season. In the first meeting, Eastmark was able to pick apart Sabino’s offense and make for a long night on the field for the Sabercats in the 56-19 victory.
“They’re a very good football team and they do a lot of different stuff,” McBrayer said. “But our guys were up for the challenge, and we were just a couple plays here and there from going to the semifinals.”
On the bus ride up, Sabino knew they had to be locked in and ready to attack from the start to avoid the same outcome as last time, and they brought the heat from the start.
After winning the toss and electing to receive, Sabino was able to drive all the way down the field in less than three minutes to score. The touchdown came on a f5-yard run from junior Mason Cade. The extra-point attempt gave Sabino a 7-0 lead with 9:25 left in the first quarter.
Defense got to work early, with senior Dominik Wayne-Parsons picking off the first pass from senior Mack Molander, bringing a quick stop to their drive. Unfortunately, the offense wasn’t able to do anything with the ball, punting it back again with just over seven minutes left in the first quarter.
On the first snap of Eastmark’s next drive, senior Diego Rodriguez was able to break free on a run to take the ball 73 yards for a touchdown. The kick was good, tying things up 7-7.
Sabino’s next possession started out with the Sabercats progressing the ball down the field before a slew of flags eventually burried them in their tracks. Forced to punt the ball back, Eastmark took possession with just under a minute left in the first.
Continuing their possession into the second quarter, Eastmark was able to capitalize, reaching the end zone on a 1-yard quarterback keeper by Molander. The kick was good, giving the Firebirds a 14-7 lead with 10:06 left before the half.
The following possession for the Sabercats resulted in a quick three-and-out, taking only 1:04 off the clock before sending out the punt team.
At this point, Eastmark had found a rhythm and it was clear they were on a roll. Progressing down the field, the Firebirds were able to extend the lead to 21-7 with a 1-yard touchdown pass from Molander to senior Austin Johnston and a good extra point. With 6:16 left, it had seemed as if Eastmark had taken control of the game already.
However, the Sabercats were not going to be beat in the same fashion as last time.
They showed their pride in their fight to close out the half. As they continued to move the chains, Sabino was able to strike once again when junior Cameron Hackworth found open sophomore Shamar Berryhill for a 35-yard touchdown pass to cut Eastmark’s lead. The PAT was good, making it 21-14 with 2:22 left before halftime.
Hungry for revenge from last time, Berryhill wasn’t done yet. As he took the field to play defense on the following drive, he was able to pick off Molander’s first snap, returning it to the Eastmark 2. From there, Cade was able to punch the ball in before a good extra point tied the game going into the half.
“He’s one of the best players in the state of Arizona,” McBrayer said of Berryhill. “It’s the reason he’s a Power 5 guy getting offers with it, but the sky is the limit. When he dials in, you’ve seen the plays he can make, he’s the best player on the field at times.”
Eastmark got the ball to start the third quarter, and with the assistance of numerous flags, were able to easily progress down the field to reach the red zone. Capitalizing on the penalties of the Sabercats, Eastmark was able to take a 28-21 lead with a 17-yard touchdown run from junior Cole Samples and a good extra point with 8:46 remaining in the third quarter.
Still determined, Sabino answered back, with another touchdown from Cade; this one an 18-yard run. The extra point was good, once again tying the game while taking just 2:20 off the clock.
From there, it would be all Eastmark, though, despite a strong defensive effort by the Sabercats.
The Firebirds were able to take the lead with 2:00 left in the third on a 9-yard pass from Molander to senior Sam Wells, followed up with a good extra-point.
It was another quick offensive trip to the field for Sabino before punting the ball back,
Eastmark’s possession carried over into the fourth quarter, when they made it a two-touchdown game with a 4-yard run by Samples and a good extra point with 10:58 remaining.
Knowing they had to work, the Sabercats were progressing down the field and looked as if they could strike before a fumble was recovered by the Firebirds. From there on out, it was just a push for Eastmark to run out the clock as long as they could before giving the ball back to Sabino, which unfortunately couldn’t pull off a last-ditch effort to keep the season alive.
As time expired off the clock and the boys gathered in the end zone, it marked a special moment – for the last time as a team, they’d huddle together on the sidelines after going to war as brothers, united as one.
“We’ve got 14 seniors and they’re all just great kids,” McBrayer said. “They come from all over the city, all different backgrounds, and they’ve built themselves into a model citizen. … Like I just said in the huddle, I hope all our freshman, sophomores and juniors are looking at them and taking notes from this season because that’s how you want to lead people.”